Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What the success of Go the F*ck to Sleep says about writers who have nothing better to do than to try to make sweeping generalizations about society based on the success of one children's book parody

The Week has an overview of pieces from around the internet in which pompous writers attach themselves to the coattails of the success of the children's book parody Go the F*ck to Sleep. Of course, these pieces say more about the authors who wrote them than about the book itself which is, as I've already said, a parody of children's books.

The book itself is written from the point of view of a frustrated parent who wants his/her child to go to sleep. Or, as the title implies, "go the f*ck to sleep." The book is full of dirty words, and illustrations that give the impression of a book aimed at children. For instance:


That's pretty funny, and an effective parody of typical children's book tropes. PDFs of the book made their way online, and have helped push the book to number one on amazon.com.

But some people are not content to let a parody be a parody. There must be some deeper meaning. After all, it looks like a children's book, yet it is full of dirty words that ain't right!

An author at New York Magazine whines:
Mommy or Daddy, like a picture book, is something that the child believes exists for the child, in full. This is why bedtime is fraught with tension—it’s when adult time begins. At least, if you have the authority to pull it off. Otherwise, here comes the patter of little feet, right during the blood-­spattered opening reel of the Hong Kong gangster movie you’ve just settled in to enjoy: “I think there’s a bug in my room.”
First of all, you'll note, this author is clearly a "cool" parent. He watches, scratch that, he enjoys "Hong Kong gangster movie[s]." Man, I wish my parents had been that cool. Second, he worries about having "the authority" to "pull off" "bedtime"? If you have a small child, and you don't even have the authority to pull off bedtime (what the hell does that even mean? just put your kid to bed already and that's it), then you should not be a parent at all. Give that kid to someone else.

You, as the parent, are in charge. There is no question of "authority." Kids sleep, it's part of their nature. I would really hate to be behind this guy and his kid when they're in the supermarket checkout line.

Over at Slate, the book is seen as an expression of the rage of parents toward children:
In Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Freud writes about the "hostile purpose" of jokes. He argues that jokes are liberating and give us pleasure when they articulate the anger we are not allowed to express in everyday life. Here of course, that anger or hostility is aimed at children, at big-eyed toddlers padding around in their strawberry pajamas, and that is what is both exhilarating and disturbing about the book. There is a nastiness in Go the F**k to Sleep, an undercurrent of resentment that is comic, or "cathartic," as another Amazon reviewer put it, only to parents who are pretty radically subjugating themselves to a certain kind of kid-centered drabness, and judging from the book's runaway success, that would be a lot of parents.
The author of this piece also says,
The idea of saying "shut the f*ck up" to a 3-year-old is hilarious and enthralling only if you are channeling an awful lot of that "hot crimson rage."
Or, perhaps, you have read more than a few picture books aimed at kids, and you find them ripe for parody. I can't get into the author's head and I don't want to. But I have read enough children's picture books to find them banal, insulting, and mostly useless. My suspicion is that he was motivated by his own personal experience, coupled with no small amount of knowledge of the general uselessness of children's books.

(The Stupids books are a strong exception. I have always very much liked The Stupids books.)

And there is this from someone writing at Movie City News:
And most of what drives this anger, this attacking, this incessant need to judge and to fight, is simply that we are each of us so terribly invested in feeling we’re making the right choices that the natural course to take is to attack anyone who thinks that we’re wrong. Because we parents put so much pressure on ourselves to get it RIGHT, to not screw our kids up, don’t we?

You have that first baby, and you look at this fragile, tiny, miraculous bit of humanity you’ve just created and you think, “Oh my God, what have I done? I barely have my shit together to enough to take care of myself. How am I supposed to raise and guide and nurture this child and, hopefully, find that in the end of it all I’ve raised an adult person who is less f*cked up and neurotic than I am?” It’s overwhelming, parenting is.
Well then, if parenting is so difficult for a delicate creature such as yourself, why are you even doing it? There is birth control. There is abortion. If you're so thoroughly neurotic that you can't do something that human beings have been doing since time immemorial, then remove yourself from the genetic pool. Do not have kids, and do not force the rest of us, the childless, to deal with your neurotic mistakes and equivocations. Do not force the rest of us to live in a world that is less interesting and more "safe" because you are worried that your child might be exposed to something that could, theoretically, cause your child to more "f*cked up and neurotic than" you are.

This book owes you nothing. It's a funny parody. Your neuroses are your own problem.

A writer at Salon claims that the book's success reveals how sexist our society is:
Though Heather Armstrong is the most famous, many other mom bloggers use irreverence and edginess about motherhood in their writing — Catherine Connors’ Her Bad Mother, Rebecca Woolf’s Girl’s Gone Child, and Kristin Chase’s Motherhood Uncensored, to name a few. And yet these women, some of whom have been blogging nearly as long as Armstrong, still get flak for the most minorly-edgy admissions. This flak comes from the very same moms buying GTFTS by the truckload. Connors was lambasted for admitting to spanking, Chase for not returning a toy her young toddler had taken from Old Navy, and Midwest mom Meagan Francis for admitting she uses a housekeeper. And we all remember the tongue wagging that Ayelet Waldman received after admitting in the New York Times “Modern Love” column to loving her Pulitzer-winning husband Michael Chabon more than her children. (Hello? We all love Michael Chabon more than we love his children.)
First of all, how does the Salon author know that the same people who are buying GTFTS are the same ones giving "flak" to these edgy "mom bloggers"? Has she seen the sales reports, and compared them to the comments sections of these blogs? Second, a lot of people consider spanking-- an act of violence-- to be the wrong way to teach a child how to behave. I don't think it's unreasonable to give someone "flak" for committing an act of violence against a child. Third, isn't taking someone else's property wrong? Shouldn't children be taught not take something that doesn't belong to them, even if they're not caught?

It sounds to me like some of these edgy "mom bloggers" are raising little as sholes. Why not call them on it, if they're willing to share this information?

Anyway, it's reactions like those I just expressed above that lead the Salon writer to believe that we're an essentially sexist society, and if a woman wrote GTFTS, then "society" would have reacted with the same shock and irritation with which it reacted to news that a woman uses violence as a teaching tool in rearing her child. Or that she at least tacitly endorses theft. Okay, I see. It's very unfair.

Over at TIME, the author makes a few of the same sorts of non-observations I quoted above. Said author also actually includes some helpful advice, such as:
The good news is that parents have more control over their child's sleep habits than they think they do, says Mindell. Here, she shares some tips:

• Have a set bedtime, between 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. for kids up to age 5. Parents think if they keep their child up late enough, they'll sleep, but it backfires,” says Mindell.

• Maintain a consistent bedtime routine. Research published two years ago in the journal Sleep showed that instituting a bedtime routine makes a difference in how quickly children fall asleep and how often they wake up at night. Mindell recommends a bath followed by two stories and two stories only.
It's so easy, it's almost comical. Set bedtime. Set routine. You might be an "edgy" mom blogger, or a hip but neurotic modern parent, but if you behave like an adult and have fixed rules for your kid to follow, no exceptions, then maybe you'll be able to sit down and start enjoying that Hong Kong gangster movie.

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